Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/24

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

was the constant pressure of the Teutons at the frontier, a pressure that could now no longer be resisted. By gradual stages they burst through the bounds, and at the time Christianity was becoming the official religion of the Mediterranean world, Germanic tribes had already extorted by force of arms a right to occupy lands within the sacred line of the Rhine and of the Danube. From that moment, for a century or more, the processes of Germanic penetration and of Roman disintegration were continuous, culminating in 375 with the great Germanic migrations and in 410 with the sack of Rome by Alaric and the Goths.

During the terrible half century that followed, the Roman world was parceled out among a number of Germanic princes, and of the old order only two things were left standing, a fragmentary empire of the East centering in Constantinople, and a bishopric of Rome of vastly increased importance that was soon to be known as the Papacy, and that already showed symptoms of attempting to regain by new means the universal dominion which the Emperors had lost.

The Germans were crude and military; the Latins were subtle and peaceful, and when the storm of conquest swept through the West they sought safety in the cloister. "There, under the protection of the Latin cross, a symbol the barbarians dare not violate, what was left of Roman intellectualism could cower while the storm blew over, presently to reissue as the army of Christ to conquer, with new-forged weapons, lands that the legions of their fathers had not even beheld."[1]

The Latin churchmen quickly learned how to play on the credulity and the superstition of the simple German, while setting before him the lofty ideals and ethics of Christianity. They not only held him through religion but they soon became the civil administrators, the legislators, the guiding spirits of the Germanic kingdoms.

Civilization had now taken on a marked change, had become a composite in which Christianity and Teutonism were large factors. Perhaps this was all clear gain; but in the economic and material sense there had been great losses. Enormous wealth had been destroyed or scattered, and imperial communication had broken down. The trader was no longer safe on the Mediterranean; the great

  1. Johnston, "Holy Christian Church," p. 162.